At the time of death, the soul leaves the body. The body without life is known as ‘preta’ in Sanskrit. When body becomes preta, certain samskaras are performed to preta before it is consumed either to fire or earth. Samskaras mean impressions. It is the subtle form of activity and knowledge. When knowledge ceases to exist, only the impressions remain. After death of the physical body, all actions reside as impressions. In the stage of deep sleep stage, anthakkaranam resides in ajnana or nescience. In the case of a Self-realized person during his life time, ajnana ceases to exist, but its impressions continue to remain. Samskaras, therefore is a way of manipulating subtle things.
According to various theories, preta is an intermediate body that the soul acquires ten days after death. Various parts of this preta are created over a period of ten days when pinda offerings are made daily. Pinda is a ball of cooked rice with ghee and sesame seeds. That is why that pinda offering along with water (sometimes tender coconut water) is considered very essential ‘śrāddha’ rights to appease the hunger and thirst of preta. Any rites performed after offering a body either to fire or earth is known as śrāddha. The ten day śrāddha period is based on the basis of gestation period of ten lunar months for a human embryo. According to Vedas and Upanishads, nothing follows the preta except the good karmas done by that soul.
Biological body is made up of five basic elements viz. akash, air, fire, water and earth. Biological body is perishable. Within the biological body, there is jīva body. This is a replica of the gross body, but in the size of a thumb of the biological body. Maha Narayana Upanishad (71) says ‘aṇguśtramātrah puruśah’ which means that the person (puruśah) dwelling in the body is in the size of the thumb. This is known as subtle body or ‘linga saria’ and is imperishable. This ‘jiva’ body which is also known as soul is embedded with karmic deposits. This ‘jiva’ body or the subtle body consumes the pindas offered by the progeny of the dead for ten days and attains preta sarira only on the tenth day. Till tenth day from the day of death, the subtle body remains in an impure condition. The impure condition of the subtle body remains for ten days till it attains its preta sarira. The impure subtle body is said to be roaming for ten days where it lived during its life time. This is the reason for purifying our body after offering condolence during the first ten days. There is a ritual called ‘sapindikarana’ at the completion of 12th lunar month from the day of death. After performing this ritual, the soul leaves the preta body and enters ‘bhoga-deha’. Bhoga means experience. During its ‘bhoga-deha’ period the soul is said to experience the result of its karmic account. This experience is called heaven and hell. If the experience of the ‘bhoga-deha’ is good, it is considered as heaven and if the experience is bad, it is considered as hell. From heaven or hell the ‘bhoga-deha’ comes back to earth, leaves the ‘bhoga-deha’ and enters another embryo in the earth in the form of rebirth either as a human or one in animal kingdom or one in plant kingdom. By remaining in preta sarira or bhoha sarira the soul merely experiences the result of its karmic account either in heaven or hell and this experience is no way absolves the soul from experiencing karmic account in the same plane the karmic account was accrued. In this case, it has to experience the result of its karmic account only in the earth and not in other planets.
After understanding the process of death, it would be easier to understand the process of birth. If the process of birth and death are understood, understanding karma and soul would be much easier.